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Posts Tagged ‘switzerland’

Greetings from Montreux, Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva. There aren’t many places where palm trees are framed by snow-capped mountains. Heck, even I managed to take a decent photo.

But let’s shift back to the world of public policy. Every time I’m in Switzerland, my admiration for the country increases. Here are five ways Switzerland is better than the United States.

1. The burden of government spending is lower in Switzerland. According to OECD, the public sector consumes only 33.1 percent of economic output in Switzerland, compared to 41.1 percent of GDP in the United States.

2. Switzerland has genuine federalism, with the national government responsible for only about one-third of government spending. The United States used to be like that, but now more than two-thirds of government spending comes from Washington.

3. Because of a belief that individuals have a right to control information about their personal affairs, Switzerland has a strong human rights policy that protects financial privacy. In the United States, the government can look at your bank account and does not even need a search warrant.

4. Switzerland has a positive form of multiculturalism with people living together peacefully notwithstanding different languages and different religions. In the United States, by contrast, the government causes strife and resentment with a system of racial spoils.

5. Gun ownership is pervasive in Switzerland, and the Swiss people value this freedom. Moreover, how can one not admire a nation where all able-bodied males have fully automatic rifles in their homes? To be sure, the United States is very good by world standards in protecting this freedom, so the  Swiss don’t really have an advantage on this issue, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Notwithstanding my admiration for Switzerland, there are five reasons why I don’t plan on expatriating.

1. I’m not rich and don’t particularly see how I will get rich anytime soon. Switzerland is not a cheap place to live.

2. It would be very time-consuming and expensive to go to Georgia Bulldog games, and I doubt the games would be on TV.

3. Speaking of sports, the Swiss share the disturbing European propensity to follow soccer.

4. It’s not warm enough.

5. Even though it’s considered a bit uncouth among some libertarians, I do have certain patriotic impulses. I’m not about to surrender my nation to the plundering thieves from Washington.

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The United States, Canada, and Switzerland are the only developed nations that have some degree of genuine federalism (Germany and Australia don’t count by my standards), and Switzerland is the only country where the central government is smaller than the local/regional governments. This is one of the reasons why Switzerland is so admirable, as partly explained in this Center for Freedom and Prosperity article on the Swiss tax system.

But perhaps other nations are learning from Switzerland’s success. The United Kingdom is devolving some power to Scotland, as reported by the Irish Times. This is just a small step, and it’s unclear how it will work since Scotland leans left and is heavily subsidized by England. But the value of federalism is that jurisdictions compete with each other and cross-regional subsidies are reduced. So if Scotland wants to use its new powers to make the wrong choices, at least only the Scottish people will suffer.

Scotland is to get substantial new powers to set its own income tax rates and win new rights to borrow money in phase two of the devolution of greater autonomy to the Scottish parliament.

The measures were described by Scottish secretary Michael Moore as the most significant transfer of financial power out of London since the formation of the UK more than 300 years ago, making Holyrood more accountable to voters.

…The proposals form the centrepiece of a new Scotland Bill drafted by the UK government, which will allow the Scottish government to increase or cut income tax rates by up to 50 per cent for basic rate taxpayers, and by 20 per cent at the highest rate.

The measures also go further than expected by offering the Scottish government much greater borrowing powers, and more quickly, than originally recommended by a cross-party commission on devolution chaired by Kenneth Calman.

…In addition, Holyrood will be allowed to introduce new, Scotland-only taxes, with Westminster’s approval, and have control over stamp duty and landfill tax. In all, the powers will give Holyrood control over about £12 billion or 35 per cent of its current spending: its block grant from the treasury, worth £29 billion a year, will be cut by an equal amount.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Switzerland. The nation’s decentralized structure shows the value of federalism, both as a means of limiting the size of government and as a way of promoting tranquility in a nation with several languages, religions, and ethnic groups. I also admire Switzerland’s valiant attempt to preserve financial privacy in a world dominated by greedy, high-tax governments.

I now have another reason to admire the Swiss. Voters yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a class-warfare proposal to impose higher tax rates on the income and wealth of rich residents. The Social Democrats did their best to make the hate-and-envy scheme palatable. Only the very richest taxpayers would have been affected. But Swiss voters, like voters in Washington state earlier this month, understood that giving politicians more money is never a solution for any problem.

Here’s an excerpt from Bloomberg’s report on the vote.

In a referendum today, 59 percent of voters turned down the proposal by the Social Democrats to enact minimum taxes on income and wealth. Residents would have paid taxes of at least 22 percent on annual income above 250,000 francs ($249,000), according to the proposed changes. Switzerland’s executive and parliamentary branches had rejected the proposal, saying it would interfere with the cantons’ tax-autonomy regulations. The changes would also damage the nation’s attractiveness, the government, led by President Doris Leuthard, said before the vote. The Alpine country’s reputation as a low-tax refuge has attracted bankers and entrepreneurs such as Ingvar Kamprad, the Swedish founder of Ikea AB furniture stores, and members of the Brenninkmeijer family, who owns retailer C&A Group.

It’s never wise to draw too many conclusions from one vote, but it certainly seems that voters usually reject higher taxes when they get a chance to cast votes. Even tax increases targeting a tiny minority of the population generally get rejected. The only exception that comes to mind is the unfortunate decision by Oregon voters earlier this year to raise tax rates.

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After being in 1st place in 2007 and 2008, America dropped behind Switzerland in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report in 2009. The 2010 ranking was just released, and the United States has tumbled two more spots to 4th place, behind Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore. I’m not a complete fan of the World Economic Forum’s methodology (the Economic Freedom of the World rankings are the best measure of sound economic policy), but it’s almost surely a bad sign when a country moves down in the rankings.  The timing of the fall will lead some to blame Barack Obama, and I certainly agree that his policies are making America less competitive, but Bush also deserves blame for increasing the burden of government and compromising America’s economic vitality. Here’s a blurb from the Associated Press.

The U.S. has slipped down the ranks of competitive economies, falling behind Sweden and Singapore due to huge deficits and pessimism about government, a global economic group said Thursday. Switzerland retained the top spot for the second year in the annual ranking by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum. It combines economic data and a survey of more than 13,500 business executives. Sweden moved up to second place while Singapore stayed at No. 3. The United States was in second place last year after falling from No. 1 in 2008.

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This story from Business Week warmed my heart. Switzerland’s cantons are competing to create better tax policy, and this is attracting companies seeking to escape the kleptocracies elsewhere in Europe. This shows the value of tax competition (imagine how bad taxes would be in Germany and France if politicians in those nations didn’t have to worry about taxpayers escaping over the border) and the benefits of federalism (unlike the United States, Switzerland has not made the mistake of letting the central government becoming the dominant force in fiscal policy).

“Low corporate taxes will help Switzerland attract business, but it’s also creating tension as European governments seek revenue to plug their fiscal deficits.” said Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Bloxham Stockbrokers in Dublin. Switzerland reported a fiscal surplus last year, and cantons from Zurich to Schwyz are lowering taxes. “There is still a clear downward trend in taxation,” said Martin Eichler, head of research at BakBasel, an economic consulting firm in Basel, Switzerland. “There is pressure to be attractive to companies and the cantons are saying that if we have to save somewhere, then it won’t be on tax.” Swiss corporate tax rates, including a federal rate of 8.5 percent, range from 11.8 percent in the town of Pfaeffikon in Schwyz to 24.2 percent in Geneva, according to tax consultant Mattig-Suter & Partner. That compares with a corporate tax rate of 28 percent in the U.K. and 35 percent in the U.S. Vaud, running east along the lake from Geneva to Montreux, persuaded Shire Plc to set up an office last month with the help of tax relief on its corporate rate of 23.5 percent, said Eric Maire, the canton’s senior project director for economic promotion. That follows the March decision of Ineos Group Holdings Plc to relocate from its U.K. base. …Tax increases in the U.K. played a “key role” in persuading firms such as BlueCrest Capital Management and Brevan Howard Asset Management LLP to shift part of their London-based operations to Geneva, said Loeffler. Smaller cantons want to emulate Zug, which used a tax rate of 15.8 percent to more than double its number of registered companies to 29,134 since 1990. The canton is home to miner Xstrata Plc and Transocean Ltd., the world’s largest offshore oil and gas driller.
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-06-01/swiss-cantons-ratchet-up-tax-breaks-as-europe-fights-deficits.html 

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